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Saturday, November 28, 1998 Published at 13:42 GMT

World: Europe

Chile promises legal action on Pinochet

Pinochet's opponents in Chile recall those who disappeared under his rule

Chile's Foreign Minister, Jose Miguel Insulza, has said that legal proceedings against the former military ruler General Augusto Pinochet will be pursued in his home country.

The pinochet File
Speaking on the second day of a visit to London, Mr Insulza told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it should be up to Chileans to decide how to deal with General Pinochet.

David Loyn: "A significant shift in the Chilean position"
The general, also a life senator, is currently detained in London, following an extradition request by Spanish judges.

UK Home Secretary Jack Straw is to decide whether the extradition may proceed, following a ruling by the UK's Law Lords that the general did not qualify for immunity from arrest despite being a former head of state.

Jose Miguel Insulza: "Chile cannot accept a Spanish trial"
"The Chilean people have to be allowed to judge and decide how they are going to deal with their past," Mr Insulza said.

[ image: Mr Insulza: No promise of a jail sentence]
Mr Insulza: No promise of a jail sentence
He said there were 14 charges pending against the general, which were in the process of being dealt with by Chilean judges

"I fully expect they will result in justice," Mr Insulza said.

But he added: " I cannot say that a man who is 83 years old is going to jail".

But BBC World Affairs Correspondent David Loyn says the new approach by Chile lacks credibility, since General Pinochet has previously not been treated as a criminal in Chile.

As a senator, his immunity from prosecution in Chile would have to be removed before the cases could be heard, and until his arrest in London he acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad, particularly in the field of arms sales.

[ image: Robin Cook:
Robin Cook: "Neither the original arrest nor subsequent steps politically motivated"
Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon's request for the general's extradition implicates him in 3,178 murders or "disappearances" during his 17 years of power in Chile.

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that he told Mr Insulza on Friday that "neither the original arrest nor subsequent steps had been politically motivated".

Both ministers expressed a shared commitment to maintain good relations between London and Santiago. Mr Cook added that he emphasised the UK's strong support for Chilean democracy.

After meeting Mr Cook on Friday , Mr Insulza delivered a letter of protest to 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime Minister, but did not get to meet Tony Blair.

Demonstrations continue

[ image: Anti-UK feelings run high among the general's supporters]
Anti-UK feelings run high among the general's supporters
In Santiago, supporters of General Pinochet have continued to picket the Spanish embassy and the British ambassador's residence, but the riots which greeted the Law Lords' ruling have subsided.

Chilean President Eduardo Frei has called for calm, and called on the country to unite behind his efforts to secure General Pinochet's release.

Chilean police have stepped up security outside a number of public buildings in the capital, Santiago, and the British embassy has closed its consulate in the coastal city of Valparaiso.

The UK also cancelled the visit of a warship to a Chilean naval fair next week.

The Chilean Interior Ministry has urged demonstrators not to break the law and criticised those who have burnt Spanish and British flags during protests.

Deadline extended

[ image: Jack Straw: Decision due on 11 December]
Jack Straw: Decision due on 11 December
On Friday, London magistrates agreed to an application from Mr Straw to extend the deadline by which he must decide whether to let extradition proceedings go ahead against Pinochet.

General Pinochet faces a hearing before Bow Street magistrates in London on December 11 when representatives for the Home Secretary will reveal if he has granted an "Authority to Proceed".

The legal process could take months or even years.

General Pinochet's lawyers are reportedly preparing to argue that he should not be extradited because he is mentally unfit to stand trial.

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